Hawksley Workman haunts my life. This isn't due to some childhood trauma of watching to much MuchMusic countdown, or living in Toronto in 2002 when his album (Last Night We Were) The Delicious Wolves was put on repeat at every good restaurant in the city. No, it is because that no matter where you turn in Canada, you will find a woman, and chances are that if she is the right age (currently being between 23 and 38), there is a 15 percent chance she will be in love with Hawksley Workman.
As I am getting a haircut at a popular salon, a hairdresser two booths down away discusses the upcoming Canada Games musical performances, where Workman is set to perform on February 18, and mentions the Tom Waits-like musical figure to her young client: "Are you going to see Hawksley?"
"I love him!"
Not his music, but him. There is a distinction to be made between the seriousness of his fans in comparison to other Canadian songwriters. His fans don't just love his music, they truly love him as a person, or how he is portrayed in person. They love his facial hair. They love his dynamic vocal range and artistic palette. They love standing in front of a class on Romantic-era poetry and reading his 2002 hit "Jealous of your Cigarette" and its depiction of heartache in relation to Keats, Yeats and other poets Morrissey mentions in song. They love his slightly less jangly version of Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart" and his stirring croon that fills out the song more than any other cover.
Which is why when he steps on stage in what can only be expected as a frigid February evening at Parade Square, the entire grounds will be packed, even if a blizzard erupts.
"Playing outside in the winter is hard," Workman says from a train passing through the English countryside where he is off touring in support of Milk and Meat, his dual 2010 releases. "Hopefully it will be a forgiving audience. It's sometimes harder to make things sound great when your guitars are bending in the wind.
But it's hard to imagine his audience being disappointed. Because whether travelling abroad on his current European tour, or playing at home to his cult of fans (which also contains men), his enthusiastic live shows draw a crowd no matter what the weather network entails.
As a multi-instrumentalist and producer, Canada's favourite young troubadour has been known to switch between guitars, piano, even singing while killing it on a drum set. Although he's a singer-songwriter first and foremost, his constant expression of multiple genres and musical exploration in the studio has not only added weight to his dynamic sound on Milk and Meat, but has allowed him to expect the unexpected. "The studio is a great teacher. The more you record, the more you realize you're not really in control. The more willing a passenger you are, the more exciting the process becomes," says Workman.
So even if he ends up playing in 20 centimetres of snow, or singing in the face of freezing rain, he will put on a strong show at the Canada Games, because fittingly, he is Canadian. "Canada has always brought the world great music. I think we are a pensive, thoughtful bunch, isolated and struggling against the extremes," he says, being shuttled off to his next show. "Our humility gives us a unique world view." --Matthew Ritchie
Hawksley Workman w/Dutch Robinson, Friday, February 18, Grand Parade, 7pm, Free